Pak-Indian conflict: Need to walk back from the brink

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By Salman Bashir

Pakistan and India have been close to stumbling into war. A general conflagration between two nuclear armed states has grave implications for regional and global peace and security. Indian transgression into Pakistan airspace on 26 February 2019 and its claims of attacking a terrorist camp in Balakot causing some 350 fatalities was debunked by Pakistan. Pakistan air force intercepted the intruders and chased them away. Nonetheless, a grave error of judgement had been committed by India by making the Indian air force violate Pakistani airspace and drop 1000kg bombs on an inhabited jungle area. Pakistan called this attack as a flagrant breach of peace and a dangerous act of aggression and wowed to respond in self defense at a time and place of its choosing. For almost twenty four hours, Indian television channels rejoiced on their cowardly attack on Pakistan and projected it as a precursor to a new Indian foreign and security policy predicated on preemptive offense. However, next day on 27 February Pakistan air force responded to the Indian provocation by engaging six targets across the line of control in Kashmir. Two Indian aircrafts were shot down and Indian pilots captured.

One Indian aircraft also crashed for reasons not known killing two of their pilots. In an action-packed scenario, Pakistan convened its National Security Committee and National Command Authority to review the situation. Airfields in both countries were closed to civilian air traffic. Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the nation making a passionate plea for peace and asked the Indian leadership to let ‘better sense prevail’, contemplate the consequences of starting a full-blown war and imagine the use of arsenals of lethal weaponry which both countries possess. Clearly from the Pakistan side there has been a mature, rational and responsible response to Indian jingoism and bravado as well as its rash and irresponsible military actions. It is important to move toward de-escalation of tensions and to take steps to calm down the situation. But it is also necessary to understand the reasons that have brought India and Pakistan again to the brink of war. There is a distinct sense in Pakistan that the ruling BJP, which is the political face of the rabid Hindutva extremist and fundamentalist RSS has set its sights to win the next general elections in India by not only pursuing a communal agenda but also creating hype and a war hysteria against Pakistan. Brow beating Pakistan is considered as a vote getter by the BJP. It was therefore not entirely unexpected that they would create a fake crisis even by a false flag operation to up the tensions with Pakistan.

The Pulwama attack on Indian Central Reserve Police Force on 14 February sadly fitted the BJP political agenda. It was used by the Indian leadership to whip up the sentiments of Indians by blaming this attack on Pakistan. Pakistan had offered to cooperate with India on Pulwama investigation. This offer was spurned and India ratcheted up tensions and used its air force for a military attack on Pakistani mainland.

It is beyond absurd to use military action against a neighbor to win votes domestically and almost stumble into a nuclear conflagration. This poorly depicts India as an irresponsible nuclear power. In fact, Indian nukes are in the hands of Hindu extremist government that has demonstrated its immaturity and rash and reckless judgement. It is somewhat disconcerting that some western countries adopted blatantly partial positions on the Pakistan-India standoff. The so-called custodians of world peace have not uttered a word on Indian atrocities against the defenseless Kashmiris. Political and economic exigencies have superseded objective considerations and true human values. They prefer to lecture Pakistan and applaud India thus earning lasting discredit.

Pakistan has learnt its lessons- a clear lesson is that one has to be strong and do what is necessary to defend your independence and sovereignty. Pakistan can hold India one on one in terms of relative power equations. India needs to realize that it is not possible to intimidate Pakistan into submission. Only as rational states can Pakistan and India work out their mutual differences and resolve disputes. A walk over in either direction is not possible. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s offer of a hand of friendship to India should not be misconstrued as weakness. Certainly, both need to start deescalating the situation forthwith.

(Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan. Twitter: @SalmanB_Isb)